Today, we’re starting a series of appreciation of ER, both some of the more famous people from it and some of the more obscure. But it seems appropriate to start with Julianna Margulies, as she was for many years the heart of the show. Doctors came and doctors went, and Nurse Carol Hathaway stayed. Even though she’d originally been supposed to die in the pilot. The decision was made to save her from her overdose, and I genuinely do not believe the show would have been anywhere near as successful without her.
In fact kind of a lot of changes happened between the original script and the pilot. (The original script is set in Boston; actually, the script I’ve read is clearly somewhere between the original and the final, and it still claims to be Boston and is obviously Chicago, which is very funny to read.) What’s more, the show is a lot less sexist than the original draft, and a lot of that I think is down to how Margulies became part of its focus. Carol Hathaway drove much of the series, until such point as she left.
I think one of the best episodes of the show is one that’s mostly just her. Carol is in a convenience store in her neighbourhood, one she goes to a lot, when it’s held up by a couple of young men, one a Scot played by Actual Scot Ewan McGregor. She becomes emotionally attached to him, and their relationship over the course of the episode is one based in fear and anger and frustration and pain, and it’s a great performance from both of them. I’ll admit I stopped watching the show in later years, but I watched long enough to see her get a satisfying ending to her character arc, and she was the most deserving of one.
I’ll admit I’m not as familiar with her non-ER work. I’ve seen her TV debut, in an episode of Law & Order. I’ve seen a couple of her movies. But apparently, her decision to leave was mostly because she just felt done with the show, to explore what else she could do with life. She had enough money to be able to do that, so she did. And I like that she’s open about how much being able to afford to do it mattered; it’s definitely not a generic “everyone should feel free to do this sort of thing,” it’s an “I had my mortgage paid off and enough money to get on with for a while.” That’s an important difference.
Interestingly, one of the people who helped her reach that decision was her ad-executive father. He’s the one who came up with both “plop plop fizz fizz oh what a relief it is” and “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.” And apparently, he also asked her if she was happy with what she was doing or if she was just in it to get rich. I mean, she’s also a lot richer than most people are ever going to be, but she was aware she was not going to hit the same heights as the man who played her character’s love interest did in his career, so why hold on just to keep trying?